Vanishing Jews

In today’s Miami Herald there are four articles, each one an interview with an elderly Florida couple who survived the Holocaust. Their stories are tragic and also inspiring, but here is the fact that caught my eye: each of these couples — all of them now in their eighties — had exactly two children, and today they have between them very few grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

I am not certain whether it is because of the conscious choices that non-Orthodox Jews made, or Divine Providence, but today it is only Orthodox Jews whose numbers are increasing. I don’t remember who made the famous remark about not granting Hitler posthumous victories, but Jews in America are famously reproducing at negative-ZPG rates.

The only non-Orthodox elderly Jews with significant numbers of grandchildren are those fortunate enough to have at least one BT child. It is too late for those elderly survivors, but young Jews today who do not want Jewish numbers to decline any further should 1. marry young and 2. have more than two kids and 3. give their children enough of a Jewish education so that their kids, too, will have more than two kids.

“Marry young” means, for a woman, before age thirty — even if she doesn’t have tenure yet. Some things are more important than a career, or should be. Jewish heroism today means giving birth to more Jews! Have you seen the latest biography of Einstein? The lists of Jewish Nobel laureates? The review in Moment Magazine of a book about the Chofetz Chaim? Jews are a blessing to the whole world. Jews, Jews, we need more Jews!

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15 Responses

  1. SM says:

    It was Emil Fackenheim who postulated a ‘614th commandment’ not to give Hitler a posthumous victory. He was a Reform Rabbi.

    I don’t like the formulation because it puts the emphasis on physical reproduction, as if Jews can make themlseves a huge percentage of the day to day population. That doesn’t seem realistic.

    However, if viewed as a suggestion as to the TYPE of Judaism one practises and teaches, Fackenheim’s postulation has real value. A Judaism that looks forward, that stresses the positive, that teaches toleration and understanding, engagement and debate. All those things are what Hitler tried to eliminate. As a test I tentatively suggest that we could ask two questions: first, does what we do in our own homes inspire our children to maintain, explore and practice Judaism? Second, would an anti-semite seeking to influence non anti-semites derive assistance from the way in which we conduct ourselves towards other Jews and the outside world?

  2. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Heterodox Jews act more like members of the societies where they live than Jews (I know I do). The real question to ask is why is late 20th-early 21st century western culture, the richest the world has ever known, trying to breed itself out of existence.

  3. mb says:

    I don’t remember who made the famous remark about not granting Hitler posthumous victories

    I believe it was the majestic philosopher Emil Fackenheim, also a Reform Rabbi.

  4. Calev says:

    I couldn’t agree more! Isn’t it a mitzvah for a man to marry by age 25? Having come to religion relatively late in life and, therefore, marrying relatively late (in my mid-30s) I acutely feel the opportunities missed as a result. One should also remember that getting married does not automatically mean having children! My wife was 28/29 when we married – but we had to wait four years before Hashem blessed us with a child. And only He knows if/when the next will come. So getting married in the early 20s can be very useful. Also, those who marry younger than the current norm can expect other benefits – they’ll find it easier to save money and prepare not only to provide for their children but also for their own retirement. And, while marriage has its own challenges and tribulations, they’ll find that every apparent step back in their relationship comes amid countless steps forward. All this while many of their peers are wandering aimlessly from relationship to relationship and spending small fortunes on renting flats and ‘having fun’ (for ‘having fun’ read ‘trying to fill the loneliness’) with nothing lasting to show for it all.

  5. Susan Cohen says:

    Sometimes there are other factors than the ones to which you vaguely allude in “not having a lot of children”. In my case, even had I found someone to marry when I was younger, I was horribly ill when I got pregnant, and permanently damaged my health – which was possibly a factor in a miscarriage I had. You really should take care when you make blanket statements, especially flip ones about “tenure.”

  6. katrina says:

    We are living in a situation where one or two nukes could wipe out the vast majority of Jews on this planet. It seems like some serious soul searching and teshuvah would be a good thing right now.


    Fackenheim was not referring only or even primarily to biological reproduction, but to spiritual survival. The imperative requires of us to maintain our faith in God, in Judaism, in the Jewish people, and in mankind.

  8. farrockgrandma says:

    We (the Orthodox) can’t afford to be too smug. These population trends are nothing new. So if the Conservative and Reform are not diminishing in number, we have been replenishing their ranks with our own dropouts.

  9. Toby Katz says:

    to Susan Cohen: I know that it is not always a person’s choice whether to have children or not. I myself struggled with infertility for eleven years before finally being blessed with children. Infertility strikes both Orthodox and non-Orthodox couples. However, across the board, Orthodox numbers are growing and non-Orthodox numbers declining. That is the result of numerous personal decisions made by individuals whose actions add up to statistical aggregates.

    to farockgrandma: Conservative and Reform ARE diminishing in number. Our dropouts are not replenishing their numbers. You are right that we do have some dropouts — and we can’t afford to be complacent about that — but we have far more who come “in” than who go “out.”

    While many non-Orthodox Jews become Orthodox, most C and R congregations are declining because their members are simply leaving, marrying out or not marrying at all, not having children or having children who are not Jewish. You are right that Orthodox Jews cannot afford to be smug. That’s because all Jews are one family, our own flesh and blood, whose losses we can never view with equanimity.

    to SM, who suggests that the kind of Jew we produce is more important than the number — you are correct, but before you can worry about what kind of Jews we produce, you have to worry about whether we produce any Jews at all. Without Jewish children, Jewish education is moot. If it were up to non-Orthodox Jews, at current rates of reproduction, there would simply be no more Jews in a hundred years.

    Personally I think that even if we can’t persuade many Jews to become Orthodox, it would be a great thing if we could at least persuade more Jews to marry Jews, and to have more than two children.

  10. mb says:

    Personally I think that even if we can’t persuade many Jews to become Orthodox, it would be a great thing if we could at least persuade more Jews to marry Jews, and to have more than two children.

    Comment by Toby Katz — April 17, 2007 @ 1:11 am

    Excellent poinr. Too much kiruv is spent on trying to make Jews frum . A common complaint of those that don’t become frum is that feel discarded.
    As far as the disappearing Jew. 1) It can’t happen. God said it wouldn’t. and 2) We have been down that road before. Our numbers dropped from 7 million at the time of the Romans to less than a million a thousand years later and didn’t really pick up again with any vigour until the industrial revolution and then exploded upwards especially in eastern Europe.

  11. Michael says:

    mb: “A common complaint of those that don’t become frum is that feel discarded.”

    Common? I’ve never heard it. Every place I know of remains open to anyone moving at their own pace.

  12. mb says:

    mb: “A common complaint of those that don’t become frum is that feel discarded.”

    Common? I’ve never heard it. Every place I know of remains open to anyone moving at their own pace.

    Comment by Michael — April 17, 2007 @ 5:33 pm

    Of course the door is open, but not so wide to those who do not want to become frum.It’s somewhat understandable as time and resources are limited, but I think it is a mistake. Chabad do fill that void though.

  13. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Toby Katz, may I suggest you try a different tactic? Let me explain.

    Your heartfelt plea sounds good to you. However, looking back to the kind of person I was before my wife and kids taught me to be less selfish, there’s what it would have sounded like to me: “It is good for us to have more Jews around, so we expect you to restrict your marriage choices. The fact that you are terribly lonely right now and worry no woman will ever love you is irrelevant. Oh, and after you get married we’d like to tell you how many kids to have. PS – your purpose is to do what we need, consider yourself conscripted for life.”

    I may an extreme case, most Israelis do not resent being drafted enough to ditch the country like I did, but that’s what a plea to base one’s life choices on the long-term needs of humanity or the Jewish people sounds like. It’s like telling an Atheist to be kind because that’s what G-d wants.

    Atheists can be kind, can even come up with reasons to be kind – but they would be reasons that would not involve G-d. Similarly, if you want Heterodox Jews in their late teens and early twenties to make certain life choices, you have to explain why those choices would be good for them.

    If you want Heterodox Jews to date each other, try to get them together more often by organizing social activities. Maybe give a few classes on how to run a successful marriage because many people aren’t so sure they’ll be able to do it. Many people did not grow up with parents who were good spouses.

    BTW, the qualities that make Nobel Laurates or Einsteins may not correspond with who is an Halachic Jew.

  14. Ori Pomerantz says:

    I should explain my last statement. Imagine three people: Adam, Belle and Carol. All three are the products of intermarriages. Adam and Belle have a Jewish mother and a gentile father. Carol has a gentile mother and a Jewish father.

    As an Orthodox Jew, you would obviously want Adam to marry Belle, rather than Carol. Adam and Belle are both Jews whereas Carol is not. However, any argument from Jewish culture and history, rather than Halacha, would apply equally well to Adam-Carol as Adam-Belle.

  15. HILLEL says:

    Throughout the Jewish history of Galuth–exile among the nations, it has been normal for large numbers of Jews to go lost, through assimilation, into the host culture.

    In countries that have extended equal rights to Jews, starting with the Germany of Frederick “the Great,” this trend has accelerated.

    America’s first large Jewish immigration was that of the Reform Jews of Germany, led by Isaac Mayer Wise.

    So, now you know…the rest of the story.

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